the gift of life

July 25, 2008

I’m beginning to think that the whole purpose of life is to posture oneself in a way to receive God’s gifts.  Life itself, its complexities, sorrows, joys, frustrations, and lessons all can have a positive outcome if understood as gifts from God.  The whole of reality, the whole of creation, the whole of the cosmos is good and meant to allow us to participate in the communal life of God.  That is the genius of the Trinity.  This concept of God being three-in-one is something that was put upon the followers of Christ as a gift.  Nobody thought it up.  It came at the end of a long struggle for the church to define what the Bible meant by God being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This triune life is a community of love that invites the creation to share in that loving oneness.  That’s why Jesus came and died and rose again.  That’s also why we have a hope of salvation.  It’s not merely being carted off to a spiritual clean, happy, wonderful place to be with God when we die.  Rather, our eternal life begins here and now in this creation that God declared good.  He is coming again to put things back in order, and we can look forward to being part of this new heaven and new earth.  The trick is not to look anywhere than within ourselves and all around us for God’s movement.  God’s kingdom of restoration, transfiguration, and resurrected hope is glimpsed in the present created order, but will fully and completely take over reality.  That’s the program I want to be a part of.  Hell is rejecting this.

Anyway, enough sermonizing.  Here’s the quote by Merton that got me thinking about all this:

“The things we really need come to us only as gifts, and in order to receive them as gifts we have to be open. In order to be open we have to renounce ourselves, in a sense we have to die to our image of ourselves, our autonomy, our fixation upon our self-willed identity.”

Thomas Merton
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

fathers’ day

June 17, 2008

What does it mean to be a father?
Before the baby is born:

accepting the fact that your wife wants to get pregnant.

fearing with her that it may be harder to get pregnant than you think (I mean, don’t I know the birds and the bees pretty well by now?)

letting her tell you some great news that she’s about to explode with.

ignoring the fact that your life will change, pretending you can be the same person.

noticing a bump grow in your wife’s tummy.

hearing a heartbeat that sounds like a roaring train but you know it’s smaller than your thumb.

realizing that a heartbeat has started, but won’t stop beating for the next 80 years.

fearing the unknown about how you will provide for someone else you’ve never seen before, and don’t know what he/she/it will be like.

creating a space in your life, your heart, and your home for someone that is yet a phantom.

getting so excited to see any new picture, any new ultrasound, and hoping that the nurse accidentally slips up and says the baby’s gender, even though you’ve reluctantly decided to honor your wife’s wishes not to know.

going to awkward birthing classes with “normal” people who seem thrust into this with a teacher who seems abnormally into babies and the birthing process.

feeling like you’re running from a monster, but the monster doesn’t run, he only has a steady stride that’s dead set on hunting you down. You know it’s coming but you can’t ever relax.

being totally blindsided and relieved at the same time once the rollercoaster decides to depart…… six weeks early.

finding the strength to be strong for your wife as the baby pushes its way through her…. with no medicine.

After the baby comes:

being confronted with total joy every time you look at your baby.

having to learn quickly to do things like hold the baby, change diapers, and feed him.

checking to see if the baby is breathing every thirty minutes when he’s sleeping.

waking up early on a Saturday and not being able to sleep in like you could just six months ago.

taking as many pictures as you can, putting them online, and assuming everyone else thinks your baby is as cute as you think he is.

looking back at those same pictures six months later and realizing that your baby looked like a wrinkled old man, just like every other newborn.

watching him grow and do new things every day, week, and month.

seeing him transform from a newborn to a baby, and a baby to a little boy.

assuming you know how stressed your wife feels being a mother, but actually having no clue at all.

learning to listen to your wife in a whole new way and not act like you know anything.

working harder than you ever have before to make sure you can provide for this fledgling little family.

forgetting there ever was a time where you thought you were invincible and had the world figured out.

experiencing fears you never knew existed in you.

finding that the only way to deal with your fears is to step blindly into the arms of God more often and more completely than you ever have before.

having a heart that’s bigger and feels more deeply, and opening up in a new way to other people.

sharing someone you love with other people who want to love him, too.

being completely awestruck and thankful to God.

 

coptic pentecost icon

Here are my notes for my talk last Sunday (Mothers’ Day/Pentecost)

Some parts may be a bit random, but I’ll post it all for the heck of it:

I’d like to look at two things that on the surface might seem a bit unconnected, but actually have some interesting connections that reflect what Danny’s talking about relating to the kingdom of God.

Today, as everyone knows, is Mother’s Day, but it’s also Pentecost. I’m going to talk about some connections between the two.

Pentecost

Pentecost is a Jewish festival that falls on the fiftieth day of Passover. In biblical times, Jews from all over the Roman Empire gathered in Jerusalem for the festivities of Pentecost. On the Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection—ten days after Jesus had ascended into heaven—the apostles and other believers were gathered together in one place, when they were suddenly empowered by the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel. They went out into the crowds and attracted attention by preaching in the native languages of all the people present. This created quite a stir. Peter seized the opportunity to address the crowd, preached Jesus’ death and resurrection, and won several thousand converts.

These events are recorded in Acts 2:1-41.

Accordingly, Pentecost is celebrated by Christians as the birthday of the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. Since the Jewish Pentecost is the fiftieth day of Passover, the Christian Pentecost is the fiftieth day of Easter.

Pentecost is not the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit made His first appearance in Genesis 1:2! Rather, Pentecost is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on human flesh to give birth to the Church.

from kencollins.com

Pentecost signals the end of the Christian year. The season after Pentecost is the focus on the Great Comission.

I’d like to tie the coming of the Holy Spirit in Pentecost with Mother’s Day. It might be a stretch, but there are some powerful metaphors of the birth of the church on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit coming over Mary, and Mary being present at Pentecost in the upper room. I think the closeness of his mother to these major events shows how he sanctified the mother-child relationship, and that it is one of the purest human relationships we can have. Not only that, but it opens up a window into the kingdom of God. When Jesus mother and siblings wanted to see him, he said that whoever does his commands is his mother, sister, and brother. That wasn’t a dismissal of his family relationships. Instead, it was an elevation of every other relationship within the kingdom of God. Namely, that all of us who believe are part of his holy family.

1. The Spirit is creative: Genesis 1:22 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Hebrew rachaph A primitive root; to brood; by implication, to be relaxed — flutter, move, shake

2. The Spirit came over Mary to bring Jesus into the world.

3. The Spirit gave birth to the Church on Pentecost.

4. Mary was probably present there.

Acts 1:14They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

Acts 2:1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

5. Jesus had an amazing relationship with his mother.

6. Often, Protestants try to minimize Mary based on their understanding of Catholic teaching about Mary. This results, however, in seeing her as just an ordinary Christian, and not someone who can teach us much about God.

7. Luke 8-19-21. 19Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. 20Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”

21He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”

This passage is often seen as a downplaying of Jesus’ relationship with his mother. However, I think it could be taken differently. Jesus is not saying that his relationship with his mother and family doesn’t matter. If we fast-forward to Jesus on the cross, giving his best friend, the “beloved” disciple the responsibility of caring for his mother,

(John 19:25) Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” 27and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.), surely he did have a close relationship with her. He did not simply hope that the community would care for her, he, as a responsible firstborn son, saw it as necessary that his mother be looked after in a normal human way. He did all of this while paying for the sins of the world. Surely it is important.

Paul elaborates on this concept of caring for your family. (1 Tim. 5:8If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.) He says that whoever does not care for the members of his family is worse than an unbeliever! Surely family has an important place in the kingdom of God.

Well, what about when Jesus says he came to turn family member against family member ( Matthew 10: 34“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to turn
” ‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her motherinlaw—
36a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

37“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it). He seems to be emphasizing the fact that our loyalty is to him above any relationship, and if any human relationship, even a family relationship gets in the way of our relationship with him, our allegiance is to Christ. He’s not saying that family doesn’t matter, in fact, the best picture of that is the family caring for each other and dwelling in unity. (Psalm reference).

9. So back to Jesus’ mother… Sure, God could have chosen any other woman to be the mother of Jesus, but he didn’t. Think about it this way. God chose Abraham out of all the idol worshippers of Ur of the Chaldees. But, nobody would deny that God had a special relationship with Abraham. He’s even called God’s friend (23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”and he was called God’s friend.).

10. We may never know the reason why God chose Mary, but we can see that God saw her as special and blessed. As we look to honor our mothers this Mother’s Day, let’s remember a few things:

a. Jesus’ relationship with Mary was extremely special and shows total care of his mother.

b. Jesus’ talking about his family doesn’t downplay the importance of his own family. It actually elevates the relationships of everyone in the kingdom of God to a family relationship. It’s an invitation for the world to be part of God’s family.

c. As we celebrate Pentecost today, it’s extremely fitting that it’s also Mother’s Day. We’re celebrating the birth of the church through the coming of the Holy Spirit. We’re also celebrating the beautiful relationship of our Mothers, and especially seeing Jesus’ relationship with his mother as a door for us to all enter into a deeper relationship with him. One of the best examples of total devotion to Jesus was his mother. Jesus invites all of us into his family to have a relationship with him like he has with his mother. As followers of Christ, let’s celebrate the gift of our families, remembering that our families should point us to the kingdom of God.

While I was driving to work this evening, I heard a radio segment called The Urban Man . Basically, this nerdy guy tells us all about the struggles to remain human while living in LA. Tonight’s was particularly interesting because his topic was about how we modern people are so addicted to distraction.

There’s a spiritual sickness in too much distraction and diversion. In my own life, I have certain tasks that I know I need to do, but so often I go for what feels less boring at the moment. This can lead to all kinds of weird habits and pursuits. It’s not that entertainment is bad. It has its place. It’s just when we’re so addicted to pleasurable activities that we can’t fulfill our responsibilities, or we grudgingly do things with our minds somewhere else.

There’s something spiritually rewarding and God-glorifying about accepting the work that we have and doing it dutifully and sacrificially as a way of obeying God. Henri Nouwen gives a great definition of obedience as “a way of listening to God” in his book Spiritual Direction . He also talks about deafness to God, or absurdity (ab sardus: not hearing) as the opposite of obedience. In this view, obedience isn’t so much a certain list of rules and duties, but a way of being in the world, a way of walking in step into what God is doing right in front of you.

So often I’d rather be so many other places than work, the DMV, Costco, a party of a friend of a friend, a job interview, etc. But by avoiding listening to God at those moments, I’m actually selling myself short, even disobeying and not being the person I’m created to be. Bonhoeffer has a really interesting quote about his calling in life that serves as the antithesis of this distracted, deaf existence that we all battle on a daily basis. He says, in his letter to Eberhard Bethge :

“I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith.  By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. ”

It’s such a daily struggle just to be human and nothing less.  Truly living in this world means listening to God in everything.  That’s true humanity, and it glorifies God. 

As Irenaeus says, “The glory of God is a man fully alive”.

fasting quote

March 31, 2008

“The question we need to ask with any spiritual discipline is, What does God want to accomplish through this practice? … Perhaps we can see, then, that the discipline of fasting has to do with the critical dynamic of accepting those limits which are life-restoring. Our culture would seduce us into believing that we can have it all, do it all, and (even more preposterous!) that we deserve it all. Yet in refusing to accept limits on our consumption or activity, we perpetuate a death-dealing dynamic in the world. That is why the discipline of fasting is so profoundly important today.Marjorie J. Thompson
Soul Feast

post-lent blues

March 29, 2008

So I’ve been having a bit of a crisis this week after Easter. 40 days of Lent was a good challenge, and I was able to go without coffee the whole time (except Sundays). It was a good goal to have.

However, after a really wonderful and meaningful Easter, I felt a bit empty afterwards. Then, after a lot of thought and listening to an excellent podcast, I realized the problem. I had focused so much on Lent as an end in itself, and too little on Lent being a way of becoming more disciplined and self-denying throughout the year.

Our life in Christ is one of discipline and self denial, but too often we think once we learn a lesson or reach a certain plateau or mountaintop, that everything’s going to be easy from there. I can’t really believe that anymore. I have to live a daily life of self-denial and constantly put my flesh to death so that I can participate in God’s life, and not act like His enemy. It’s so extremely hard, but at the same time, so totally rewarding that Jesus can honestly tell us that his burden is easy and his yoke is light. My burden this week at times felt so heavy, as if I were carrying it alone. For some reason, I didn’t feel that way during Lent. Maybe it’s because I knew I was denying myself…….

This prayer from the Eastern Church helped me through Lent; it’s by St. Ephrem the Syrian. I think I need to continue to pray it daily, throughout the year:

O Lord and Master of my life, keep from me the spirit of sloth and discouragement, lust of power and idle chatter.

Instead, grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humility, patience, and love.

O Lord and King, grant me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother; for You are blessed now and ever and forever. Amen.

St. Ephrem